Art Goes to the Movies
MAM shows the inspiration behind the scenes
Here’s another way Disney movies have adult undertones, and it won’t even make you cringe—the designers are often inspired by famous artists, from Hiroshige to Rodin to Lichtenstein. “Animation: Art Goes to the Movies,” a special children’s exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum, examines the artistic origins of various animated films with distinctive aesthetics. Sometimes imagery from these films becomes better known than the works from which it borrows, at least to those who would watch them all day every day if able. I, for one, can discuss the scene where the Beast turns into a man with greater authority than I can critique Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, which Glen Keane, head animator for Beauty and the Beast, consulted. (He also referred to the paws of the family basset hound.)
The exhibit shows the mechanics of animation, the basics of which haven’t much changed since Eadweard Muybridge first strung together pictures of a moving horse in the 1870s. It also shows that as ideas go from storyboard to screen, the museum acts as muse.
The shot of Rapunzel on a swing in Tangled is a near copy of a painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, right down to the shoe flying off her foot. Andy Warhol’s pop art and the carved birds of American folk artists influenced Disney-Pixar’s Up, while the production designers working on Maleficent’s goons in Sleeping Beauty were inspired by artist Hieronymus Bosch. The Universal Studios art directors of The Tale of Despereaux also looked to the Golden Age of Dutch art when they fashioned the castle to look like a Vermeer painting. The exhibit makes the parallels particularly apparent by displaying a still of Despereaux's Princess Pea bathed in light from the window along with a replica of Woman Reading a Letter.
Kids can match scenes from their favorite movies with more masterly works of art. The twisting staircase from Cinderella?—that goes with the Giovanni Battista Piranesi etching. Visitors who feel so inspired can put colored pencil to paper at one of the easels, or make their own fruit portrait head in the style of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, not to mention Despereaux’s Boldo character. This interaction has to be better for them than staring at a screen, but the exhibit might also alleviate some of your guilt for sticking them in front of Hercules for the umpteenth time. The gospel-singing muses do shimmy atop a typical Greek vase, after all.
“Animation: Art Goes to the Movies” runs throughout the year, and it’s just a short drive north for all you Chicago moms! The building, which sits on the shore of Lake Michigan, is a sight in itself and especially noteworthy given this exhibit. The component designed by Eero Saarinen, not to be confused with the stunning, birdlike addition by Santiago Calatrava, was the basis for the house in Disney-Pixar’s The Incredibles. —Kate Guadagnino